Alberta Politics
Russian soldiers take part in the 2019 Victory Day parade in Moscow (Photo: Kremlin.ru).

Lest we forget? Does Veterans Affairs’ video blooper signal something more seriously amiss in Canada?

Posted on May 11, 2019, 2:43 am
6 mins

On Thursday 13,000 soldiers of what used to be known as the Red Army marched through the heart of Moscow to military bands playing “The Sacred War” as Russia marked the 74th anniversary of the surrender of Berlin and the end of the road for Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.”

According to polling just before what is still known in post-Communist Russia as Victory Day, fully half the population of the country intended to attend a military parade or commemorative procession on May 9 marking what the West used to celebrate the day before, May 8, as V-E Day, for Victory in Europe.

World War II German soldiers identified as Canadians by the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs (Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada).

I’m willing to bet that, even now, every one of those Russians old enough to attend grade school could tell you the difference between a photo of a German soldier of that terrible historical period and one from any of the nations fighting Germany and its allies, especially their own.

Which suggests something more profoundly amiss in Canada than a mere historical blooper in the at once appalling and hilarious story of the Veterans Affairs Canada commemorative online video that identified World War II German soldiers as, erm, Canadians, with the tagline Lest We Forget!

Amnesia, anyone?

Well, fortunately, a few Canadians hadn’t forgotten, and the ad was quickly pulled. No doubt a reedited version will appear soon enough without the soldiers wearing the Nazi eagle on their uniforms and characteristically German field caps in the first clip.

Probably the most obvious conclusion of this tempest, which is sure to be short lived, is that the historical education in Canadian schools no longer focuses on the 1930s and 40s, leading some poor advertising agency schmo to confuse the German Army of the day for the Canadian one.  If nothing else, this suggests the value of keeping a few older workers around the editing suite.

A more frightening possibility is that with the rise of the loony right in the West, including enabling of outright neo-Nazis by supposedly respectable conservative politicians, the fetishism of Nazi symbolism by the Canadian far right, and some of the unsavoury groups our armed forces are apparently training abroad mean this falls into the category of an “honest mistake.”

In countries like Ukraine and Latvia, where Canadian troops are stationed today, people parade publicly in uniforms of the German-allied forces of the Second World War, including the distinctive “coal bucket helmets” of the Wehrmacht. Tucked discreetly away in a corner of West Edmonton, for heaven’s sake, there’s a memorial to veterans of the 14th Division of the Waffen SS. I kid you not.

So maybe the confusion of the video editors is more understandable than we 21st Century Canadians would like to admit. I hesitate to use the word “reeducation,” but a little historical refresher course might be in order.

Question for Jason Kenney: Is doing politics during school hours always bad, or just sometimes?

When a hundred or so Edmonton high school students walked out of school earlier this month to protest the United Conservative Party Government’s plan to weaken protections for LGBTQ students, and when about 300 skipped classes to protest inaction on climate change, Premier Jason Kenney was concerned.

Student anti-abortion marchers in Edmonton the same day the former Red Army was parading in Moscow’s Red Square (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“We want to make sure young people are learning in class instead of doing politics outside of school during school hours,” Mr. Kenney griped.

But what did Premier Kenney have to say when 1,000 or so students mostly from Roman Catholic schools were bused to Edmonton to take part in the anti-abortion March for Life on Thursday?

Crickets.

No point calling up and asking the old anti-abortion campaigner for a comment. It’s not the sort of thing the UCP responds to. But if you know a member of the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery, it might be worth urging them to pop the question next time they have the chance.

I mean, seriously, what’s the difference as far as Mr. Kenney is concerned? That the anti-abortion protesters doing politics were in the company of their teachers? That public funds paid part of the cost of their political demonstration?

Can you imagine what Mr. Kenney would have said if the GSA or environmental protesters had been joined by their teachers?

There’s something very wrong with this picture.

5 Comments to: Lest we forget? Does Veterans Affairs’ video blooper signal something more seriously amiss in Canada?

  1. ronmac

    May 11th, 2019

    As the son of a WWII vet I’m not horribly upset by this video snafu. Growing up I was made to understand not all Germans were “bad” or fanatical Nazis and a lot of them were just like us, caught up in something they were powerless to stop. Years later I ran into a Dutch person who grew up in German-occupied Holland who said the average German soldier following orders was quite disciplined and were actually “liked” more than the Americans who came later and had a total lack of respect.

    Of course, we can’t forget Nazi horrors like the holocaust. But was that any worse than European colonialism in Africa? Or the genocide committed against First Nations people in North America? Hitler himself admired how ethnic cleansing in the American west should serve as a model for his own ethnic cleansing he was dreaming about.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      May 12th, 2019

      Ronmac, your comment is similar to something I have thought for a few years now – WWII German foot soldiers should not be considered the same as the Nazi leaders. Citizens of 1930’s Germany were extremely hard pressed financially, and out of desperation latched onto a popular leader who offered a solution (sound familiar?).

      I have had the pleasure of visiting a lot of small villages in Germany, and something I have found is the lack of memorials honouring the villages’ war dead, like we see in Canada. While I understand this is probably a result of Germany’s national shame of the Nazis, it also makes me feel a special sympathy for the families of fallen German soldiers. Their grief is just as real as the families of fallen Allied soldiers, but they don’t even get the ‘fell for a good cause’ consolation.

      Reply
  2. Keith McClary

    May 11th, 2019

    At least they didn’t print it on banknotes.

    I seem to remember a similar mixup a few years ago.

    Reply
  3. Murphy

    May 11th, 2019

    The perceptions held by most Canadians of the Second World War have never been anything more than a manifestation of highly sophisticated propaganda techniques. I like to re-read AJP Taylor’s “Origins of the Second World War” now and again, because it was an establishment work yet it demonstrated very clearly that the commonly accepted narrative of the events of the thirties, as sold in Canada, are simply fantasy. An equally false narrative of the internal history of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China has been hammered into people since the creation of NATO. Which means we have three competing and absurd stories, that the German state was bent on enslaving the world while at the same time the communists were doing the same while the allies were a force for light and good. Ideology as the basis for the war was the only novel concept in the propaganda to differentiate the period after 1933 from the Nine Years War of the seventeenth century. The fact that the good guys, Canada included, snuffed out between twenty and thirty percent of the North Korean population between 1950 and 1953, makes it painfully evident that something is very wrong with the picture of World War 2 that we have hung.
    By the way, it makes perfect sense to have a monument to SS Division Galizia in Edmonton, as British intelligence smuggled the survivors of the unit into Canada after the Second World War. Ukrainian Nazis performed noble service on behalf of NATO in the early cold war, conducting terror campaigns inside the Soviet Union on missions where they were parachuted in by NATO planes. This was one activity exposed by the spies Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.
    There is a an interview one can view with a former Canadian airman from the Second World War who claims that he fought in the only just war in history. One really must be very skeptical of that type of claim to exceptionalism, and yet it is the cornerstone of mainstream belief in the Anglo-American states.
    Given that our perceptions of the Soviet Union and China were in large part the creation of intelligence asset propagandists like Robert Conquest, it’s not much wonder the right-wing kookosphere has taken up the mantle of the discredited tenets of National Socialism. One does reap what one sows.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    May 12th, 2019

    I suppose this should not be a too much of a surprise. Most of the people running Veterans Affairs now are probably not old enough to even remember Hogans Heroes well and I get the feeling Veterans Affairs is not the department the A team goes to anyways. Perhaps fortunately for them, there are not that many World War II veterans around anymore and that era is also becoming a distant memory for our society as a whole, so the outrage will probably quickly fizzle.

    I suppose it is however indicative of a trait of our era – sloppy sourcing. Warhol said that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame, perhaps in this era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, that should be revised to 15 minutes of embarrassment. We seem to be in an time when doing something fast or responding quickly is demanded more than getting it right. Are we becoming a disposable society full of disposable ideas? None of them very good or very original.

    We have such powerful technological tools at our fingertips, one would hope we could use them better or more wisely. Perhaps we will eventually learn how to do so. In the meantime it might be a good idea for government departments to keep a few more fact checkers around to verify things before embarrassing material get posted or put out there.

    Reply

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